President Nelson, from the recent General Conference said:
A nonbeliever might say that faith is for the weak. But this assertion overlooks the power of faith. Would the Savior’s Apostles have continued to teach His doctrine after His death, at the peril of their lives, if they had doubted Him? Would Joseph and Hyrum Smith have suffered martyrs’ deaths defending the Restoration of the Lord’s Church unless they had a sure witness that it was true? Would nearly 2,000 Saints have died along the pioneer trail if they did not have faith that the gospel of Jesus Christ had been restored? Truly, faith is the power that enables the unlikely to accomplish the impossible.April 2021 General Conference
Let assume that Joseph and Hyrum were martyrs . Does the fact that somebody dies for their beliefs make that belief true? That is what I think Pres Nelson is implying. That seems to be a common theme lately. In a recent devotional to the YSA of East Africa, Elder Holland closed with a testimony based around the idea that Joseph Smith and Hyrum Smith would not have gone to their grave for a cunningly devised fable. He is implying that their death in Carthage Jail was a proof of the truthfulness of Joseph’s work and the church he founded.
But if we agree with this premise, and apply this logic to others that died for their beliefs, it opens a whole can of worms. Lets start with the hijackers on 9/11. Are they martyrs? Does dying make what they believed true? Would they have suffered a martyrs death defending their beliefs unless they had a sure witness that it was true? Would they have gone to their grave for a cunningly devised fable?
I could go on and on naming martyrs, both famous and infamous. The number of suicide attacks has increased greatly since the year 2000, with about 300-400 each year. When somebody dies for their cause, it does not prove the truth of their claims, but that they were sincere.
Obviously there is a difference from intentionally meaning to die in a suicide bombing, and being killed for what you believe. So maybe the example of the hijackers above is not a fair comparison? This Catholic writer seems to believe suicide bombers are not martyrs
False “martyrdom” is usually planned, often the result of months of calculated evil. True martyrdom is usually unplanned, but instead an instinctive response made possible by living a life of virtue.
False “martyrdom” is a single event, with the only relevant action in a false martyr’s life being the circumstances surrounding their death. True martyrdom is usually the culmination of daily acts of dying to self in smaller ways.
False “martyrdom” involves using your body as a weapon. True martyrdom often involves using it as a shield.The Catholic Weekly, 7/21/16
Contrary the the Catholic argument, Fair Mormon, in defending Joseph Smith, admits that “martyrs can die for worthy or ignoble causes, but this makes them no less martyrs.”
So where is my logic wrong? I’m I reading too much into Pres Nelson’s and Elder Holland’s words? Are they allowed some hyperbole because of their position in the church, so it should be expected? Is there a better way to talk about Joseph Smith’s death without implying that anybody that dies for that they believe must have the truth?
 Not everyone believes Joseph Smith was a martyr, due to the fact that he fought back with a pistol. See a contrary view here.
If a martyr is someone who dies for his or her belief in a cause, then both (Joseph Smith and the 9/11 murderers) are martyrs.
Joseph died for what he had seen. The 9/11 murderers died for what they had been taught. Their martyrdoms seem to testify that the martyrs were sincere in their beliefs.
Their martyrdoms do not prove any final truth, except that Joseph believed what he had seen and the 9/11 murderers believed what they had been taught. To me, Joseph’s martyrdom is greater evidence of final truth because he testified of what he had seen, not what others has taught him. He was sincere in testifying that the Most High God had put forth his hand in these latter days in the establishment of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — he was an eyewitness, and he sealed his testimony with his blood.
The 9/11 murderers were not eyewitnesses of anything. They let their Islamic faith turn into fanaticism which led them to murder. Many Islamic leaders see their martyrdom, if they deign to use the word, as ignoble.
I don’t think that death is the key to prove a martyr’s faith. It is what they went through in living that proves their faith. Death might be the final result, but more important is what they endured in their life. Joseph Smith endured repeated acts of hate and criticism. He was tared and feathered, hounded by the law so that he had to live in hiding for a long period of time. He was jailed for months in the Liberty jail. He was betrayed by those he trusted. These many, many events are what proves his faith. And many of these are involved in what lead to his death in the Carthage jail. The true martyr knows that he can recant his belief and all that goes away. It is this continual adherence to his claims under the relentless attacks on his credibility that turns his death into true martyrdom.
See also the hyperbole of WW Phelps (d.1872) in the hymn “Praise to the Man.”
I have three brothers and we have all gone through some type of faith crisis – the youngest (age 42) is holding on by convincing himself that Oliver Cowdery had the most to lose if the work was a fraud, and therefore it must be true to this day.
See Proverbs 14:12 and 16:25: there is a way unto man that seems right but the end therefore is death.
Jesus’ disciples, with the exception of John, went to unnatural and gruesome deaths. Would they have done so knowing the Good News was a fraud? Then again, history is strewn with delusion: David Koresh and those of his ilk.
OK, I’ll assume that Joseph and Hyrum were martyrs. There are numerous reasons in addition to JS’ pistol why it is questionable whether they died because they would not renounce their beliefs.
Still, I cannot see in RMN’s word any implication that dying for their beliefs makes such belief true. Instead he seems to be speaking of faith and certainty (an aspect of one’s commitment, not of the thing one is committed to). Perhaps you see the implication in the use of the term “sure witness”. But that term has been used by LDS leaders and others with a variety of meanings ranging at least from (a) prompting by the Holy Ghost to (b) seeing Christ. Generally, I see it as a reference to the strength of one’s conviction whether based on third party witnesses, promptings of the Spirit, or visions or visitations. Cf. the notorious unreliability of first-hand witnesses in legal matters.
I’ve also wondered about what sometimes seems to be an inverse relationship between certainty and humility. Maybe some people are humble about some things and not about some of their opinions, observations, or beliefs.
In any case, dying for one’s beliefs implies exactly nothing about the truth of those beliefs, but perhaps only about the strength of one’s commitment to them — a conviction that one would not wish to live having recanted them.
In no shape or form was President Nelson saying that the truth of the Gospel is proven to us by that martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum. His statement was that we can no that they were convinced of its truth. There is a world of difference there.
It is irrefutable face that Joseph and Hyrum put a lot on the line. Indeed, they put everything on the line for the Gospel. President Nelson’s point is that they would not have put everything on the line for something they did not believe in.
What about us? President Nelson’s point is that it should matter to us whether Joseph and Hyrum died for nothing. We should be willing to put everything on the line to find out.
I apologize for the egregious autocorrect errors in my post. Typing on these new technological phones can be a bit tough to manage.
Agree, faith is a powerful, useful force. But as an aside to the post, wasn’t JS in Carthage jail because he ordered a mob to destroy the printing press of a newspaper that condemned him/the Church of practicing polygamy – an accusation he repeatedly denied? That‘s my understanding of the history – please experts correct me if I’m wrong – and for it severely reduces the power of the martyr narrative in this case.
Correct, Eugene. ‘Martyrdom’ is too generous a word to describe Brother Joseph’s fate. He died in a gunfight, in which he was grossly outmatched. And when you consider how he ended up in jail in the first place (destroying the printing press that was being used to expose his polygamy) it’s hard to call his last stand an honorable one.
I have a brother-in-law who’s primary strategy for winning arguments is digging in and getting louder and more belligerent. He certainly has conviction in what he believes, but that doesn’t make him right, just obnoxious. “Martyrdom” is a concept based in mythology more than real life.
Wondering, you are correct that a carful reading of Pres Nelson’s words do NOT say that the church is true because he died for it. But what does the average member take away from those words? I would not go as far as Captain Spring and say “in no shape or form”. I still see him making an implied relationship between truth and death.
But neither you nor Capt Spring talked about Holland’s words. It’s a little harder to back away from him when he said Joseph and Hyrum would not have died for a “cunningly devised fable”. There is little wiggle room there. If they didn’t die for a fable, they died for something that is true. Yes, one could add that they died for something “they thought was true”, but that is not what Elder Holland said.
This is such an important concept that the church has yet to address, I believe in large part because some of the “religious” persecution members historically endured is entangled in the unlawful polygamy Joseph and others were engaging in at the time. Until the church acknowledges why this practice would have inspired so much understandable anger in the communities they were inhabiting, instead of acting only like the victim, they will never reconcile their fiction with the facts and will be limited in their progress as an institution.
A few years ago, the video at Carthage jail had a clip of Holland saying it (the death) was proof that it was true, not simply that it was proof that they believed it. Huge turn off. Apparently, then, he’s been saying it for a while and it still saying it.
Side note, I also asked the guide about the masonic cry Joseph said before he died and the guide didn’t know anything about it. The Church really should work on educating their volunteers and vetting their material at these sites.
Yeah, Bishop Bill, I couldn’t respond as to Holland because I didn’t find his words. I wonder though, if he said they didn’t die for a “cunningly devised fable”, whether he was really addressing the idea that they had cunningly devised a story they didn’t believe in. I don’t know what the “average members” take away would be, but I think people generally are not careful either (a) to pay attention to anyone’s entire sentence (I see your follow up to “cunningly devised fable” omitted “cunningly devised” and turned it into a statement about truth by focusing only on “fable”), or (b) to try to grasp what might have been meant even if it wasn’t stated clearly and explicitly. I’m at least sometimes bad at both those things!
I know it was mostly an aside, but I think the use of a pistol and how one views a martyr largely depends on one’s attitude on guns (really want to avoid turning it into a political discussion). My tendency is to see them as a means for protection of others first, and myself second. If protection of others was his main motivation, that would lend itself to martyr status. Additionally, with a small window that so many reenactments show Joseph “falling” out of when shot, it would be more likely that he had a running start and leapt through. While one could argue he was trying to save his own skin, I find it equally probable he was thinking of those with him. Once out, they abandoned all thought of the upper room. Had he stayed, I’m pretty sure more than Joseph and Hyrum would be dead.
It’s probably just my own personal spin on “martyrship,” but I also thought it went beyond beliefs, and took into account the life lived up until death and the fruits that came from living that life and intent thereof. I make no claims of fully understanding Islam, but with the 9/11 attackers, I see oppressors and extreme adrenaline junkies (stuff not all that compatible with much of Islam).
With Joseph, I see a man who dedicated his life to for a cause and for others. I see an instrument for restoring a vehicle that provides both teachings and power for maximizing both my agency and the joy I get out of life. That’s enough for me to assign martyr status.
I realize that polygamy and other things are also enough for others to keep the designation of martyr as far away from Joseph as possible, and I can understand that. I think it’s a very subjective term, and as much as we like assign things to clear and distinct categories all wrapped up with a bow on top, it’s one I’m fully content largely leaving up to the individual.
A martyr dies for the cause of his faith. One doesn’t have to accept whether their cause is true–the followers can and do call them martyrs. The 9/11 hijackers are martyrs in their own eyes and their supporters eyes. I’m perfectly happy calling the mass murderers whether their cause was true or not.
Eugene, the late Michael Quinn said polygamy in the Expositor was no big deal, and Joseph probably wouldn’t have destroyed the press over that issue. Instead, Quinn claims Joseph making entreaties to Russia, France, and Great Britain were of much greater cause for concern. See this article summarizing Quinn’s position. https://mormonheretic.org/2009/05/10/the-nauvoo-expositor-a-different-perspective/
I asked BYU professor Dr. Derek Sainsbury about Quinn’s position, and Derek agreed. Polygamy was a more minor issue to Joseph, but negotiations with foreign governments was the real reason Joseph wanted the Expositor destroyed. See https://gospeltangents.com/2020/07/why-joseph-destroyed-expositor/
“When somebody dies for their cause, it does not prove the truth of their claims, but that they were sincere.”
Or that they rather die than admit they’re wrong or have acted fraudulently.
Joseph Smith was killed unjustly. But the mainstream church narrative has long omitted and greatly downplayed details that if included in the “how-he-died” narrative would dampen the heroics of the image the church has long tried to create. In the months leading up to his death, Joseph Smith arguably violated treason clause of the US Constitution. He declared himself king of Nauvoo, created a Council of Fifty (likely political leaders of a new government), destroyed a printing press critical of him, drank wine the day before he was shot and killed (not important as to why he was killed, but another fine detail that the church neatly omits and does not want to feature), and fired three rounds into the mob outside his room just before they fired on him. I in no way justify his killing, but people in Illinois in 1844 had great reason to be suspicious and wary of Joseph Smith. I could see there being grounds for arguing that Smith was a casualty of looming political tension and discord, almost as if the target of a preemptive war strike to thwart a religious theocracy from emerging within the US. It wasn’t just his religious beliefs he died for, it was likely political beliefs and growing suspicions of treasonous actions, which weren’t entirely unreasonable, that were a factor in his death.
An individual’s actions can certainly be evidence of faith and faith can lead individuals to do just about anything. Faith and belief are extremely powerful, far more powerful than knowledge in my opinion. The question here is whether actions can be evidence of truth as suggested by president Nelson’s statement. I believe that in most cases the answer would be no because those actions could be attributed to faith.
However, we can look at Joseph Smith a little differently than most other martyrs because he was largely acting on knowledge, not faith. Whether or not everything he claimed to have experienced was true or not, he knew for certain. Did God the Father and Jesus Christ visit him, did angels like Moroni visit him, did he receive the gold plates from Moroni, did he translate the gold plates, did he receive the priesthood from ancient apostles, etc, etc. Whether or not any or all of these events were true or where a fraud, Joseph knew the truth while the rest of us either believe or don’t believe. So when considering why Joseph did the things he did, I think we can often remove faith from the question. While others suffer martyrs’ deaths for what they believe, Joseph lived and died for what he knew to either be true or to be false.
Looking at it this way, perhaps president Nelson was asking if Joseph would have suffered a martyr’s death knowing that everything he taught and did was false. If that is what president Nelson is asking, then we can conclude that he believes that Joseph would not have died for what he knew to be false and thus his willingness to die was evidence that Joseph knew it to be true. Would Joseph have died for what he knew to be false? I suppose we’ll each have to answer that for ourselves.
Your comment is getting a lot of downvotes, but I understand what you are saying. I suppose we can apply the naysayer’s argument to the man some of us call our Savior. He died for what he believed, and I accept that as an evidence (among others) as a matter of faith supporting the truth that he died for. That was a couple thousand years ago, but there are similarities.
Most everyone here seems to be assuming Joseph “chose to die”, so the debate is framed around whether he “chose to die” for a fraud. What if he didn’t expect to die? Overdramatic exclamations of going like a lamb to the slaughter, notwithstanding. What if he assumed he was going to be rescued or released?
Christ is the ultimate example of one who went to his death willingly. I just don’t see the same with the story of Joseph Smith.
That’s an excellent point I hadn’t though of, foxinhikingshorts. Especially after his long imprisonment in Liberty Jail led to him and his fellows ultimately being allowed to escape, perhaps Joseph was expecting a similar outcome. Even if he had to wait it out for a while, he figured he’d be able to escape and return to Nauvoo.